Evidence suggests Butler's success is no fluke
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Before the 2011 draft, an NBA personnel director spoke positively about Jimmy Butler's defensive skills.
The assessment went something like this: "If he can just find an offensive move that works for him, like Bruce Bowen hitting 3-pointers, he will have a chance to stay in the league."
It was a realistic evaluation. So many talented athletes never acquire the offensive skills to be a successful NBA player. And it's why Butler's second season with the Bulls was such a revelation.
Butler became a competent 3-point shooter— .381 in the regular season, .405 in the playoffs. He drove to the basket and scored.
In fact, he probably was one of the playoff leaders in 3-point play opportunities. He also knocked down midrange jumpers, sometimes standstill and sometimes off the dribble.
That's a remarkably complete offensive package for a guy who was supposed to be a defensive specialist. Butler, 23, averaged 15.7 points during his senior year at Marquette, so it's not like he was a non-scorer.
Maybe some NBA scouts did misread his talents, but either way, it appears the Bulls hit at least a deep triple, if not a home run, by nabbing Butler with the No. 30 pick of the draft.
Here's another way to look at Butler's second-season success: The NBA is full of players who looks good in limited roles mostly because they play with talented teammates.
Miami's Norris Cole is an example fresh in the minds of Bulls' fans.
He's catching the benefits of playing with LeBron James just like Daniel Gibson in Cleveland a few years ago.
No one can say Butler is a product of his teammates. His numbers may be inflated because he played so many minutes (43.3 in 20 regular-season starts, 40.8 in the playoffs), but Butler's breakout season came without Derrick Rose.
There were so many injuries among his Bulls' teammates, Butler was often forced into a lead scoring role and delivered. In other words, he was able to score while opposing defense were focused as much on him as anyone else on the floor.
In some ways, Butler is a reminiscent of one of the Bulls' favorite Finals rivals — Utah's Bryon Russell. Russell was an unheralded second-round pick who initially earned a role as a defensive stopper, then averaged as many as 14.1 points in the 1999-2000 season.
Plenty of people looked good playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone, though, and after leaving the Jazz, Russell never averaged more than 4.5 points.
Of course, Butler also has lived up to his billing as a strong defensive player. At 6-feet-7, he doesn't quite have the same height or length as Luol Deng, which is why coach Tom Thibodeau liked the Butler-Deng combo at shooting guard and small forward.
During 32 games as a starter — regular season and playoffs — Butler averaged 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds, which seems to show he's capable of playing shooting guard full time.
Two years ago that statement seemed inconceivable.
Sure, it's possible Butler's success could turn out to be false hope. Playing next to Rose next season will be an adjustment.
There was so much positive evidence during Butler's second pro season, though, there's probably a better chance he keeps getting better than becomes a flash in the pan.
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